In the days of Edmund Ironside, the name Eadric Streona kept popping up at the most critical moments … and not in a happy way. It seems this elusive Earl of Mercia must have had incredible powers of persuasion, because he kept showing up no matter how often he switched sides. No one seemed to know whether he was working as a spy for Canute or as Edmund’s advisor, and no one seemed to understand why the Saxon king could trust him. Where did this man come from?
Streona was not Eadric de Mercia’s last name; rather, it was a nickname that roughly translates to “the Acquirer.” He became Earl of Mercia in 1007, apparently as a result of murder, or rather, doing King Aethelred’s dirty work while acquiring the land from tax defaulters. He married the king’s daughter, Eadgyth, in 1009, making him Edmund Ironside’s brother-in-law.
In 1015, Eadric secured the assassination of Siferth and Morcar, two main thegns in Danelaw. We can assume that he did this for Aethelred, as the king confiscated his property and ordered the arrest of Siferth’s widow. After this episode, Edmund (not yet Ironside), defying his father, took the widow and made her his wife. So Edmund became the lord of the so-called Five Counties in the East Midlands, while Canute was hostile to the Danelaw at the time. Edmund and Eadric began to gather troops to fight Canute, but since Edmund had just married the widow of the thegn that Eadric had murdered, Streona soon plotted to betray him. Four months after Canute’s arrival in England, Eadric had sworn homage to the Danish chief, along with forty Mercian ships.
In 1016, Aethelred the Unready died and Edmund the Aetheling was immediately elected king by the citizens of London. Unfortunately for him, Canute was elected king by the Witan at Southampton, causing a dilemma that raged for the next seven months. London bravely resisted three sieges by Canute, and King Edmund did his best to drive the Danes away from the city. Eadric was present in all the important battles, first on one side and then on the other.
His first infamy was at the Battle of Sherstone, he fought on the border of Wessex and Mercia. Eadric sided with Canute, and on the second day he cut off the head of a warrior who looked like Edmund Ironside and showed it to the King’s army, shouting that the King had been slain. The Englishman hesitated, about to take flight when Edmund tore off his helmet, exclaimed that he was alive, and threw a spear at the traitor. Unfortunately, the spear missed Eadric and skewered someone beside him. The King’s army recovered, but the day ended in a draw.
The Danes returned to their ships, but Eadric returned to his brother-in-law and swore allegiance to him. No one knows why, but Edmund regained favor with Mercian Earl. The king assembled a new army and put close pressure on the fleeing Danes, but Eadric was said to have managed to stop Edmund long enough for the Danes to recover. Then, at the Battle of Assandun, in charge of his own troops, Eadric suddenly turned and fled the field, causing a great slaughter.
For some reason, Eadric was still in the trust of King Edmund, and after Assandun’s defeat he managed to persuade the king to meet Canute in person. The two kings met on an island in the Severn and eventually agreed to divide England between them, with the understanding that each king was the heir to the other. Poor Edmund didn’t survive the year; Although the chroniclers did not agree to any allegation of foul play, many believed that Eadric quietly eliminated Edmund Ironside.
As for Eadric Streona, Canute’s henchman had outlived his usefulness. Although he had kept his county of Mercia, Eadric is said to have expected more rewards and chided Canute for his lack of appreciation. Some went so far as to claim that Eadric claimed he killed Edmund for Canute, but I suspect this is poetic license. Regardless, it is certain that Canute killed him on Gemot Christmas. My favorite story is that he had Earl Eric cut off his head and throw it out the window into the Thames. How appropriate!